Dog Training 411

posted July 15th, 2008 by
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Story by Mary Green

Q: I have a Great Dane who is 15 months old.  He is fairly well behaved.  He has the sit, stay, lie down, shake hands, and basic commands down fairly well.  I have problems with getting him to come.  Sometimes he will even look at me quite obstinately and go on with what he is doing.  This makes me feel like he knows what I mean.  I always praise him when he obeys, but if he does not feel like coming to me, he will not!  Any ideas?

A: It seems as though you have done a nice job teaching your Dane some basic skills.  By rewarding his good behavior, you greatly increase the chance that he will repeat this behavior.  The problem with getting a dog to come when you call him is that whatever he is already doing (sniffing, digging, and running away) is inherently more rewarding to him than whatever you may offer.  His obstinate look and his return to whatever he was doing is probably because he knows if he comes to you it is “The End of Fun for The Dog.”  So the challenge is to change his mind about that! 

Teaching your dog a reliable recall may be the single most important skill he ever learns.  It could one day save his life.  

First of all, to begin teaching your dog to come when you call him, you must be prepared to reward him every time he comes to you.  The reward needs to be of very high value to the dog; something he really likes.  It may be food, it may be a belly rub, or a favorite toy.  If you are using food as a reinforcer, it needs to be something extraordinary.  Save the usual treats for reinforcing other behavior.  

You may find that changing your command from “come” to something else like “here” will speed him up.  If “come” means to him “The End of Fun for The Dog,” “here” could mean “cookie party!”

At first start indoors, or in a relatively distraction-free area.  Say his name in a happy voice followed by your new command (make it a happy “hee-year”) and praise him for any effort to pay attention to you.  Pet him, feed him his treat slowly, and let him go again.  He will soon learn that checking in with you may mean cookie party plus more freedom!  

When you practice outdoors in a fenced area, you may want to have a light weight drag line attached to his collar.  If he does not come when you call him, you can step on the line and prevent him from going further away.  Walk up the line a bit and try again a little closer.

Never stop randomly rewarding (reinforcing) your dog for coming when called.  Even if you have practiced 2,000 times, it might be the 2,001st time that is an emergency.

Q: I have a seven week old Rat Terrier/Chihuahua mix puppy.  He seems to be impossible to potty train.  I take him outside and we could sit for an hour and he does nothing but stand between my legs shivering, then the second we get inside he attempts to do it on the carpet.  I take him right back outside and he does the same thing for another 30 minutes.  That’s when I give up and put him in the bathroom with a puppy pad and he does his business on the tile.  I’m starting to wonder if he’ll come around.

A: Let’s drop back and regroup.  At seven weeks old, your little guy should probably still be with his mom and littermates.  Since he’s not, I suspect that he did not have any early experience with house training.  Standing shivering between your legs is clearly a sign that he is stressed – if not terrified.  Staying outdoors longer isn’t going to help.  And it is wrong to punish a puppy for having an accident.  It is up to the owner to establish good house training management.

The ideal setup for such a small dog would be a crate (for short-term confinement) placed inside of a puppy pen (for long-term confinement).  The puppy pen would contain the crate, a water bowl, chew toys and a puppy pad.  The puppy pad would be placed as far away from the crate as possible.  At eight weeks, a puppy’s bladder capacity is only about one hour.  By confining him to his pen for the long-term (for example while you are off to work) he can learn to sleep in his crate and eliminate on the pad.  The crate door is left open so he can choose to get a drink, go potty, chew his chew toys or go take a rest.

When you are home, you can confine him short-term in the crate, and take him outdoors every hour to go potty.  Even if you are playing with him, or training him, he needs to go outdoors every hour. A young puppy will generally urinate soon after waking up, so instead of waiting for your puppy to wake up, wake him up and take him directly outdoors.  Give him only a short time (less than five minutes) to do his business, and take him back indoors.  Be sure that you give him treats for eliminating outdoors.

As he gets older, he will have a greater bladder capacity (about two hours at 18 weeks of age) and you may be able to do away with the puppy pen and continue to use the crate.a

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